We live in times of visual crisis. We are surrounded by images of all sorts, and the choice to view things is becoming more and more limited with each passing day. As the visual culture around us gets denser, saturated with information through billboards, hoardings, advertisements, new flyovers, or underpasses, flashy new fuel-efficient cars, shiny new malls and of course new construction. One cannot even hide behind the screens of one’s laptop or smartphones because that space too, is constantly bombarded with advertisements of online stores and shopping prospects with apps like daraz.pk and zameen.com. Which brings me back to the question of home / house / architecture. In fast changing cities like Lahore and Karachi, it becomes almost inevitable to ignore these new visual landscapes. But where are we headed? I try to find the answers to some of these questions through profiling the architect, artist and academic, Arshad Faruqui.
Arshad Faruqui was born in Karachi, Pakistan. He went to the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology where he successfully completed his Master of Architecture. Ever since he has been associated with various boards and architectural organisations, including his own design business.
The life of a professional artist is by no means easy and running your own business more so. As an architect and as CEO of Copper and Steel, Arshad Faruqui is all too familiar with the unique challenges these have. His architectural practice came into being sixteen years ago because of his artistic vision. Faruqui is an artist who both enjoys and thrives working with others in the creative process. There is obviously the work he must do himself as an artist in design and creation but there is also the collaboration with other artists, architects, craftsman and designers. On the business side Faruqui must also deal with clients and contractors, which have practical demands of an architectural firm. As an architect he has to find ways to satisfy the clients desires with what is realistic of the space and environment present. This is part of the separation between architecture and the concept of art and design. That is also the difference between artistic practice and artistic theory. Art and design focus on fine art while the architecture Faruqui is responsible for, must balance this with professional demands and restrictions.
Faruqui has experience with this collaborative creative process outside of his own professional practice as well through Pursukoon Karachi, an organisation he is a founding member of. Pursukoon Karachi was created as a response to the violence and deteriorating conditions in Karachi. It is a way for the creative community to work together with the vision to focus on the city’s deteriorating conditions and find solutions to mitigate them. The renovation of the Karachi Cantt Station was a project taken by Pursukoon Karachi to both return the more than century old structure to its original form and improve what was needed practically and creatively. Numerous people come to Karachi for work and opportunities not available to them otherwise. Cantt Station is the disembarkation point for many of these people. The benches and other structures created by a community of artists through Pursukoon Karachi added both functionality and aesthetic quality needed by the station.
The Karachi Cantt station project is a good example of the balance Faruqui has found in his work. Such is the balance of creativity and functionality, desire and practicality, through the collaboration of many artists with a shared vision. The restoration not only preserved the historic building but also helped the public practically by providing them with proper facilities and a more peaceful design. The goal was not simply one of renovation but of revitalisation.
Faruqui’s one true love it seems is copper. In the bustling streets of Zainab and Corporative Market there are a few shops that sell copper objects. That first interaction with copper objects led Arshad Faruqui to Sarafa Bazaar and Taanba Gali. He discovered two families who have been working with the craft of copperware since many generations. This is when his interventions begin, that attempted not only to revive the dying craft but also find a way to support the families by providing them with larger commissions.
He had first kept these new copper objects at the Koel shop, but due to their immense success he needed to have a dedicated space. However, he also felt that it was important not to expand the business so as to ensure continuity of quality and good design. And so what began as a hobby turned into a carefully crafted creative practice. This, for Faruqui, was also the point of a friendly departure from the mega projects consultancy and architectural firm, Ali Arshad Associates, as both their visions for their respective architectural practices were different.
Arshad Faruqui has also been associated with the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture since the time of its inception in 1996. Initially he was a full time faculty member, working in the faculty of architecture. Alongside teaching studio courses he was also responsible for developing the curriculum. He still has a strong affinity to the art college but he now enjoys focusing on his creative practice more.
As a man who wears many hats, Faruqui has also ventured into other areas of art, including publishing, curating and collaborating, with photographers, writers, painters and potters. In his curatorial projects he places a lot of emphasis on collaborations and bringing the various disciplines of art together. He finds these conversations to be extremely significant towards opening up new thresholds and finding newer directions in art.
It is rare to see architects collaborate with artisans, print-makers or painters, and they are not always readily accepted into the infrastructures of galleries and museums. But Arshad Faruqui broke this status quo a long time ago, not only challenging the norms of complacency but also establishing links within the creative community. He fondly remembers his peers, David Alesworth and Naiza Khan who encouraged him to continue with his artistic practice. This allowed him to form the first committee of the Koel Gallery with the late Usman Ghouri, Noorjehan Bilgrami, the late Habib Fida Ali, and Amean Jan. One of his first art projects was Architecture Beyond the Board in December 2009. Some of the architects, such as Najeeb Omer and Tariq Qaiser, who participated in the exhibition, still show their work as artists. He then went on to curate Just Copper at the Koel gallery in 2010 and used that experience as an opportunity to learn more about mounting exhibitions and coming up with exciting ideas as thematic.
Application of this newfound knowledge could be gauged from the hugely successful exhibitions that Faruqui curated, soon after, including the show, Presence of Absence in 2014, and the infamous Seven Deadly Sins exhibition. The latter was much talked about during the entire time the show continued in the gallery. The premise of the show, other than the self-explanatory idea of the seven deadly sins was forming unusual pairs who were given each deadly sin to portray through collaborative work. Bringing together author, Mohsin Hamid, fashion photographer, Tapu Javeri, sculptor Seema Nusrat and architectect, Naheed Mashooqullah, among others, the show provided a new meaning to ideation and collaboration.
It is no surprise that Faruqui likes being busy. He founded, the publication project by the name of Black Olive with Amean J., to bolster documentation of architectural practice in the country. He is the convenor of the Institute of Architects, chairman of the Board of Architectural Education, and the chairman of the Institute of Architects, Karachi Chapter. He is currently working on another exciting curatorial project, which is due to happen in 2019. Arshad Faruqui, lives and works in Karachi.